Bitter Brew (Missing Scenes from "The Duel")
by Seasprite

Captain Pellew was already on the quarterdeck beneath an overcast,
pre-dawn sky. Men were hard at work repairing the damage done in the
previous day's engagement with the three French corvettes, an
engagement that but for a certain young man's audacity neither he nor
the men now scurrying under his scrutiny would have likely survived.
He certainly would not have retained his ship. Pellew paced toward
the aft railing and watched the lightening gray band on the horizon.
Except for the pounding and the barked orders going on behind him,
first light would have been a tranquil moment, a moment he usually
savored at the beginning of each day.

But not this one. He had slept little the night before, peace eluding
him over the officers he'd lost... and those he'd almost lost...
Eccleston, whose wife had just delivered their second child. Chadd,
the second in his family to be killed in the King's service. And then
there was Hornblower, determined to satisfy a debt of honor. Pellew
sighed, recalling the lad's confrontation with Simpson in Pellew's
cabin only hours ago...

* * *

Once the captain had released him from his promise not to fight
another duel, it was as if the nervous tension holding the boy intact
had evaporated. When Simpson wheeled and strode out after Horatio's
acceptance of challenge, Horatio straightened to take his leave but
wavered as he stepped toward the door. Pellew's steadying hand under
his elbow guided him to the table and, pulling out a chair, pushed
Horatio into it.

"I'm sorry, sir." Horatio tried shaking his head to clear it, which
only made things worse.

"Mr. Hornblower, this is a ridiculous enterprise you've undertaken.
You're hardly in a condition to stand much less to fight a duel with
that... miscreant." His words were gruff with worry. From what he
had been told by various crew who'd been on "Papillon," Horatio had
been knocked insensible twice, shot in the head, and nearly drowned,
all in the last thirty-six hours.

The wound was bleeding again. Pellew lifted Horatio's hand still
clutching its wadded-up handkerchief and pressed against the bloody
gash.

"Lean your head back," he ordered kindly. He strode to the door and
spoke quietly to the marine stationed just outside. "Pass the word
for the surgeon. Quickly."

"Aye aye, sir."

Horatio's one open eye followed Pellew as the captain walked to the
credenza and poured a small glass of brandy. Horatio was embarrassed
at his body's weakness and even more embarrassed that it was his
captain witnessing it. When Pellew offered him the glass, he
practically squirmed. "Thank you, sir. I'm fine, really, just a
little dizzy."

"You're lucky." He pointed to a small but deep scar on the right side
of his own forehead. "Took a chunk of bone out with it. Had
headaches for months. Drink up. The brandy'll take the edge off,
help you sleep."

"But, sir, the challenge--"

"Can wait until morning. You're going to have that looked at, and if
the good doctor doesn't order you to bed, I will."

A knock at the door. "Come. Ah, Dr. Hepplewhite..."

* * *

"Come on, you men, step lively there!"

Mr. Bowles' stentorian tones brought Pellew back to the present.
Simpson was on deck, standing at the railing, watching the jollyboat
maneuver into place. Without a backward glance, he climbed over the
side and descended, the three officers refereeing the duel following.
Presently, Matthews, Styles, Oldroyd and Finch came from below and
stepped over the side, taking up the oars once seated. Hornblower was
the last to emerge on deck, his walk steady. But when he turned to go
over the side, Pellew could see the gray morning reflected in the
lad's face.

Game he may be, to a fault, but this was no contest. "Mr. Bowles,
ready another boat, if you please."

"Aye aye, sir."

* * *

Pellew's boat had put in some distance down the beach from that of the
duelists'. The fact registered somewhere in the back of Horatio's
mind, not that it mattered, although he did wonder vaguely why the
captain was there at all. With all the repairs the ship needed, and
sorting out the new chain of command what with Eccleston and Chadd
dead... Archie missing and probably... dead... and Simpson who was
fairly dancing with impatience to meet his fate...

He stepped forward, the round, smooth stones of the beach making
walking difficult. As the cold, sadistic glitter in Simpson's eyes
greeted him, Archie's voice drifted into his brain. "...best shot in
the navy. He'll kill you certain sure." Then gentle Clayton's
deathbed apology: "I'm sorry I didn't kill him..."

Horatio dimly heard someone telling him to stand back-to-back, then
Simpson's coarse voice intruding: "I'm going to kill you, snotty.
Just like I killed Clayton. And your little pal, Archie."

"Kennedy?" Then the words sank in as he finally made the connection
to what Styles had said the previous night -- that Simpson had said
Archie was cast adrift when the ship came about. But that wasn't
right.

//Simpson *set* Archie adrift!//

>From a ledge not far above the beach, Captain Pellew saw Horatio was
shaken by whatever just transpired between the two. Now they were
facing each other, pistols raised. He could hear, "One...two--"

A report and flash of smoke from Simpson's gun, and in horror, Pellew
saw Horatio slammed to the ground in impact.

//Dear God...//

Pellew started to descend when he saw Horatio helped to his feet,
blood soaking the white linen of his left shoulder. The boy's left
arm hung lifelessly at his side, but he could stand unaided. And
slowly raised his own pistol.

Horatio barely heard Simpson's sniveling pleas for mercy. His own
pain at that moment recalled the savage beating Simpson had given him
aboard "Justinian." The memory of it made him nauseous, tightening
his finger on the trigger. The panicked, trapped look in Simpson's
eyes as he saw Horatio's finger move recalled the same stricken look
on Archie's face when Horatio walked into the wardroom and interrupted
Simpson's planned assault. He was able then to conceal his disgust of
Simpson to spare Archie further pain.

But he couldn't conceal his disgust and rage now at the pathetic man
practically groveling before him. Knowing he couldn't hold the
shaking gun much longer, he suddenly flung it skyward and fired.

"You're not worth the powder."

Horatio contemptuously cast the gun aside and turned away from
Simpson. Pellew was heartsick at the sight of the boy's face, screwed
up in agony, as he clutched his wounded shoulder. The captain started
to descend again when he saw Simpson move.

Simpson no sooner grabbed the dirk out of Cleveland's sheath than
Pellew grabbed the musket from the marine next to Bowles, and in one
terrible, desperate motion, he cocked, aimed and fired just as Simpson
closed on Horatio's defenseless back.

Casually, as if looking at a holed target instead of a dead man, Mr.
Bowles commented, "Exceptionally fine shot, sir. If I may say so,
sir."

Lowering the gun, Pellew grimly replied, "You may, Mr. Bowles. You
may." He could see the disbelief in Horatio's eyes as the boy whirled
and looked up to see whence came the shot that saved his life. Pellew
couldn't begin to fathom the range of emotions that swept that
expressive face, but he didn't have long to ponder because Horatio's
eyes suddenly closed, and he dropped like a stone onto the pebbled
beach. Styles reached him in time to save him from having his head
opened up a second time in as many days.

Pellew shouted down to the men, "Get him into my boat and to the ship
immediately!"

"Aye aye, sir!" Matthews called back, saluting, and together they
bundled Horatio to the captain's boat where oarsmen were at the ready,
Dr. Hepplewhite hastening to keep up.

* * *

Horatio emerged from below decks, in uniform for the first time in two
days.

And a miserably hellish two days it had been. He'd had to use all his
powers of persuasion to cajole Dr. Hepplewhite into allowing him on
deck and into the open air. Hepplewhite wasn't in any hurry to
release him, especially after the captain's unprecedented twice-daily
visits to the sick berth. But there was no countering the quiet
determination of his patient, even if Hepplewhite would have to answer
to Pellew later should Horatio's escape prove to be, as he was
convinced it was, premature.

Horatio carefully made his way along the cleared decks to the
quarterdeck's ladder. He was relieved to see Captain Pellew facing
aft and thus couldn't witness his one-armed progress up the ladder,
made a little more difficult than he'd anticipated with the rolling of
the ship just setting sail.

"Sir."

Pellew turned around. "Ah, Mr. Hornblower." His shrewd eyes
instantly saw behind the solemn young face and checked the involuntary
question that arose as to how the other was feeling. Instead, he got
to the point. "You have fought your duel. That is well. Never fight
another. That is better."

If he expected even a slight smile at the unnecessary admonition, he
was disappointed. Horatio also kept to the point. "I owe you a debt
of gratitude, sir."

"I dispensed justice as I saw fit. I told you, Mr. Hornblower, I
judge a man by what I see him do."

"Nevertheless, you saved my life."

"As you saved the life of every man aboard this ship, sir." It was
patent the lad had no idea how to respond. "Come on, man, no false
modesty now."

The invisible weight the other was carrying kept dragging his eyes
downward. Pellew quickly crossed to stand in front of him, less to
prevent him from looking inward so much as it was to imbue the younger
man with a little of the confidence he badly needed. "I see something
in you, Mr. Hornblower. If you continue in this service as you've
begun, a great future awaits you."

Again, that nonplussed inability to accept praise at face value.
Nevertheless, Horatio managed a "Thank you, sir."

Pellew couldn't have kept the gentleness out of his voice if he'd
tried. "Carry on, Mr. Hornblower."

"Aye aye, sir."

As Pellew returned Horatio's salute, he gave what he hoped was the
beginning of a small, encouraging smile although tinged, he was
afraid, with a bit of pride, too. But Horatio simply turned to his
post at the forward railing. As Pellew moved to stand beside him, he
heard him give a couple perfunctory orders to Styles and Matthews on
the main deck, but otherwise there was no softening of the rigid back
and gingerly squared shoulders. He heard a faint gasp of pain as
Horatio, out of habit, clasped his left hand behind his back, but
Pellew didn't turn his head.

He knew he'd have to keep a surreptitious eye on the stubborn and
proud young man beside him, whose indomitable spirit could no doubt
outlast his body's capacity for punishment. Horatio was on watch days
earlier than required, but Pellew couldn't fault the lad his loyalty
to duty especially with the ship's complement of officers so depleted.
But there was also a duty to oneself that Horatio had yet to learn,
equally important in becoming a true leader of men. He was young yet,
and he would learn it, but Pellew wasn't exactly relishing the thought
of playing tutor. He didn't realize he'd uttered a derisive snort at
his own thoughts until Horatio turned to him questioningly.

"Sir?"

Giving a perfectly audible, self-deprecating sigh, Pellew shook his
head, ruefully glancing at the younger man. "Wool gathering, Mr.
Hornblower."

"Yes, sir."

He also symphathized with Horatio's loss of Kennedy. The two had
become fast friends on "Justinian," although from Pellew's
perspective, the relationship seemed more like protector and
protected, a relationship he himself well understood. It was a role
he cherished. Having made the choice long ago for a life at sea, he
had foregone the usual pleasure and social ritual of marriage, and
thus also the blessing of children. The sea was his mistress and his
ship her midwife. True men born on her decks out of the boys
entrusted to her (and his!) care were rare enough, but never before
had his paternal instincts been so engaged. Pellew was too honest a
soul to say it wasn't due in part to the number of years he'd seen
pass, and with them the inevitable and all-too-human thoughts of
immortality. However, he was also too honest not to admit that
Horatio, even with his late start in the service, showed a
precociousness Pellew had never possessed. Good God, if the boy had
started at twelve, how far he would've already come. Although if he'd
been aboard "Justinian" at twelve...

The ship suddenly heeled to starboard and both men had to grab at the
railing. The huge roller that had taken the helmsman by surprise was
visible as it cleared the ship, quartering off the port bow.

As the ship yawed again in the trough, righting itself, a very young,
very green midshipman, crossing to the ladder, careened into Horatio
who instinctively reached out to keep the boy from tumbling to the
lower deck headfirst. Horatio couldn't suppress a groan of anguish as
his injured shoulder protested.

The sound terrified the midshipman. "Sorry, sir." He turned even
greener and scrambled down the ladder. Horatio looked ghastly.

Pellew turned to the marine stationed vigilantly behind him. "Please
have Mr. Hether report to me immediately for watch."

"Yes, sir!"

Horatio looked questioningly at Pellew. "Sir?"

"Danger from any quarter except the sea itself doesn't exist. There
is no need for heroics."

"Sir, I didn't--"

"Of course you didn't, and I wasn't referring to that clumsy boy."

Hether took the quarterdeck ladder in three lunging steps, followed by
the marine. "Yes, sir!"

"Mr. Hether, you are to relieve Mr. Hornblower here. Mr. Hornblower
will be indisposed for the next forty-eight hours, so please inform
the officer of the watch."

"Aye aye, sir."

As Pellew turned to the marine, his eye caught the movement of
Horatio's good hand reaching for the railing again. "Please see that
Mr. Hornblower gets to sick bay without incident. And tell Dr.
Hepplewhite if he allows Mr. Hornblower to leave his bed before
forty-eight hours have passed, the ship's company will be witness to
the first keel-hauling in His Majesty's Navy in ten years!"

"Yes, sir!"

The marine strode to the ladder as Pellew reached over
and unobtrusively transferred Horatio's weight from the rail to his
own strong hand under the boy's elbow.

"I need you back on duty, Hornblower, but I need you whole," as he
walked Horatio to the top of the ladder.

"Yes, sir. I'm sorry, sir."

"Belay that."

The marine, now on the main deck looking up the ladder, noted the
captain's considerable concern and shouldered his musket, reaching
both hands to steady Horatio's descent.

"Mr. Hornblower?"

Horatio looked up. "Yes, sir?"

"Have a care for yourself, Mr. Hornblower. Men won't follow those
unable to lead."

For the first time, a ghost of a smile softened the pain in the
other's dark eyes. "Understood, sir."

As the marine shepherded Horatio below, Pellew turned in time to see
the setting sun vanish in its fabled green flash, shafts of waning
golden light piercing the few scattered clouds on the horizon. It
would be a comfortable night's sail, conducive to rest for those who
needed it the most. Then his eyes deepened with the thoughts of the
letters he had to finish and, with a last glance at the darkening
vault of heaven, he, too, went below to wrestle with his own pain.